Taser Use by Canadian Police Essay
Taser is a term used to refer to an electronic weapon that makes use of electrical current in order to disrupt voluntary control of the muscles. Neuromuscular incapacitation is the term used by its manufacturer, Taser International to refer to its effects . Taser international also uses the term “ Electro-muscular Disruption(EMD) technology to refer to the working mechanism of the weapon (Taser International [TI], 2007). This weapon works by stimulating its victim’s sensory as well as motor nerves leading to strong involuntary muscle contractions. The good thing with this type of weapon is that it doesn’t inflict pain on its subject except when used in Drive Stun mode (TI, 2007). This is actually the reason why its preferred by many jurisdictions over non-Taser stun guns and other weapons controlled electronically because they inflict pain.
Taser weapons are known to come with accessories such as laser light, optional mounted digital video known to be capable of recording even in low light situations. Police models in use in the modern day are only two: M26 and X26. The manufacturer of this weapon intended to have it used by police especially in dispersing demonstrators as well as immobilizing violent persons (Rolfsen, 2007). This shows that the manufacturer didn’t make it as a lethal weapon. The weapon has however been subjected to a lot of debate and controversy since its use has in recent times resulted in death and serious injury of the subjects. The weapon has been particularly been criticized by UN and Amnesty International who argue that its use has breached human rights by subjecting its subjects to cruel, inhuman treatment (Rolfsen, 2007).
Canada and the United states are two countries where the use of this gun is quite common (Strier, 1999) . Statistics however show that, though it was basically manufactured as a safe weapon, police overdependence of it has resulted to a number of deaths and serious injuries. A case in point is the death of one Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver international airport in Canada. This death attracted a lot of international criticism and placed the use of this weapon on the lime light (Rolfsen, 2007). This gentleman was a polish immigrant moving to Canada. He was involved in a row with Canadian police over a delayed clearance of his immigration documents. The police then used the weapon on him. This man is said to have been subjected to about 50 000 volts of electricity (Rolfsen, 2007). Apart from this death, several other similar ones have been recorded in Canada. In 2005 and 2006, about 6 people are said to have died after being shot with Tasers (Rolfsen, 2007). About 15 people in total are believed to have died since the weapon started being used. All of them were subjected to several cycles of the weapon with one of them receiving about 12 exposures in three minutes (Rolfsen, 2007).
Despite these deaths, am still of the opinion that Tasers are relatively less lethal weapons and therefore Canadian police should be allowed to use them as long as they will use them correctly. Since the device was put in use to control violent victims, fewer deaths have been recorded (Waldrep, 2006). This is because the alternative if this weapon was not used would have been a fire arm which would definitely inflict a fatal injury. The fact that some people die after being subjected to it doesn’t mean that the weapon is lethal. Research has indicated that, victims who die when the weapon is used on them are those experiencing excited delirium (Waldrep, 2006). This research also showed that maximum current densities from Tasers that goes to the heart and other vital body organs are within safe limits hence not lethal.
My opinion is influenced by a number of factors which have made me believe that the weapon is more safe than human rights groups try to make it come out to be. Firstly, deploying the weapon in a three point mode has been found to be safer than deploying it in a probe mode. This shows that, if officers are instructed to always use the weapon in a three point mode, it would not cause serious harm to the subject hence safe (TI, 2007). Other research groups have pointed out that, there are several situations where Taser is used successfully without any harm to the subject, situations which the use of any other weapon would result in the death or serious injury to the subject (Roth, 2001). This confirms that appropriate use of Taser can indeed result in considerably low rate of injury to the subject as well as the officer (Waldrep, 2006).
Further still, Braidwood recommendations enhance the safety of the weapon use. This again makes me view the weapon as a safe as opposed to a lethal one. If these recommendations are observed, then human rights groups would have no reason to agitate for its ban. According to him, the weapon should only be used if the subject is causing bodily harm to the officer (TI, 2007). This is to the effect that the officer can only result to the use of the weapon in self defense. This would put in check abuses of the weapon by police officers. He further argues that an officer is only supposed to use the weapon if he/she has no lesser force option that can be made use of to contain the subject without inflicting bodily harm. He further recommends that officers be required to try first de-escalation or crisis intervention techniques unless the officer is certain that these techniques cannot stop the bodily harm being caused by the subject. Officers are also not supposed to exercise multiple exposures of the weapon on the subject (TI, 2007). The officer should ensure that the exposure doesn’t exceed five seconds unless he is certain that the fifth second exposure could not give the required result of calming the violent subject. Many deaths linked to this weapon are attributed to prolonged exposure to the weapon’s current (TI, 2007).
As a further safety measure, I would suggest that the manufacturer customizes the weapon to the effect that it cannot last on the subjects body for more than five seconds per exposure. Braidwood further proposes that a paramedic be called in to assist in a medically high risk situation before the weapon is used on the subject or immediately after the exposure. This would clearly reduce the number of deaths related to the weapon use (TI, 2007). Additionally, he requires that a police academy be given the task of training officers on the use of the weapon following strict training guidelines set by the provincial government. This would ensure officers can use the weapon properly hence eliminate the risk of deaths caused by careless weapon use (TI, 2007).
To ensure the safety of officers during training, he recommends that the province’s standards which deal with training curriculum prohibit the exposure of both the trainer and the trainee to current from the weapon. This would also reduce the number of deaths linked to the use of the weapon (TI, 2007). Testing is also required after a serious injury or death with the officer’s gun being withdrawn and its electrical output tested. He further recommends the development of a weapon incident report which would be filled every time an officer deploys the weapon. His recommendation that officers be barred from aiming the weapon at sensitive body areas of the victim like the head, chest and the neck further promote safety (TI, 2007).
To promote safety further, since the weapon is said to cause more deaths to people who are mentally ill, substance affected, struggling violently for a long period, then I would recommend that officers be barred from using the weapon for such victims (TI, 2007).
As far as training for the use of the weapon is concerned, the QPS Taser Policy bars officers from using a Taser unless they have completed a training on the same (TI, 2007). Officers are also required to train in operational skills training(OST) curriculum every year, a curriculum which has incorporated the use of this weapon. This curriculum is revised yearly to take care of new operational needs as well as changes to national guidelines. To include any operational needs in the curriculum, its required that they be researched and validated (TI, 2007). To perfect the competency of the officers, those who do not demonstrate the required skills and competency are given remedial training after which they are re-assessed. This clearly ensures that officers can perform any operational skill or tactic safely and efficiently (TI, 2007). This eliminates chances of deaths which can be attributable to careless weapon use.
The training is normally divided into three blocks with the first one providing six hours of training each day (TI, 2007). The purpose of this block is to equip officers with the core operational skills and tactics. Block two on the other hand gives officers a six hour training each day. It incorporates both core and key skills, including fire arms aiming at giving officers a strong skill base. Finally, block three focuses mainly on the Taser. Officers are equipped with knowledge and skills regarding the Taser’s theory and operation in this block (Rolfsen, 2007). In summary therefore, the Taser training consists of ten hours eight of which are face to face training. Examination is administered at the end of the training where officers are required to pass a test comprising of the key components of the training given (Rolfsen, 2007).
For officers to qualify for operational service in every successive calendar year, they are required to complete all the three blocks of OST the previous year. This training clearly addresses the issues and the risks pertaining the Taser hence it’s a good and effective training (Rolfsen, 2007). For instance, the training teaches officers that they should avoid the use of the Taser repeatedly and over an extended period. They are advised to apply the weapon over the number of cycles which would allow them to safely restrain the subject (Rolfsen, 2007). They are advised to take the training as an opportunity to attempt to gain control over the situation at hand. In the event that the situation requires repeated or extended exposure, the officers are advised to take care of the subject and to even break conduct if possible to minimize the risk exposed to the subject (Rolfsen, 2007).
This training has therefore been viewed as adequate. However, a few adjustments have been proposed. These adjustments include: a more comprehensive training and retraining on the Taser to ensure a safer as well as a more effective use of the weapon during operational policing (Rolfsen, 2007). Incorporation of training on handling of new discovered risks associated with the Taser is quite important. This calls for a constant revision of the training curriculum to ensure this is taken care of. The curriculum should also be tailored to emphasize more on the importance of using only a minimum amount of force(Rolfsen, 2007) . The curriculum should also be tailored to incorporate a scenario based training which would incorporate theory and decision making into practical sessions (Rolfsen, 2007). The training should also enable officers make out special groups on which the weapon ought not to be applied. The officer should be taught the risks of applying the weapon on such subjects (Rolfsen, 2007). For these additional trainings to be administered, the number of training hours should be increased especially hours taken in block three because this is where the use of Taser is emphasized. The Canadian police officers should only be allowed to use the Taser if and only if they are to follow the safety precautions discussed.